A popular 2.5 mile stretch of Deep Creek that runs through the Lake Arrowhead area will be closed starting Friday for one year due to unsustainable overcrowding, officials said Thursday.
The popularity of the creek’s swimming holes, most notably Aztec Falls, has caused an increase in traffic and parking problems over the past several years on narrow Forest Service roads leading to the creek, the San Bernardino National Forest said in a news release.
“The crowds at Aztec Falls and nearby swimming holes have reached a tipping point,” Mountaintop District Ranger Marc Stamer said. “We need to take a pause for the safety of everyone and protection of the river so we can come up with a plan for visitors to sustainably recreate.”
The Forest Service cited an example from May 9, when there were so many visitors that parking spilled a half-mile outside the National Forest border, creating a two mile road hike to the Splinters Cabin Trailhead, which accesses the creek, officials said. Typically, the hike to the nearest point of the creek is a tenth of a mile from the parking lot.
The same day, while fire officials and deputies were responding to a 911 call for an injury in the creek, they were unable to access the area due to overcrowding. Parking along the single-lane roads created a gridlock and vehicles did not have room to pull over for fire and police units to pass. As a result, authorities had to conduct an air rescue.
During the one-year closure, the Forest Service plans to create a recreation management plan to address congestion and parking in the area, and to address other challenges in managing sections of Deep Creek, including illegal campfires, graffiti and trash, according to the agency.
The closure includes the creek going north from Splinters Cabin Trailhead to Devils Hole. Additionally, the picnic area and Splinters Cabin Road will be closed to vehicles and foot traffic. Hiking through the area on the Pacific Crest Trail will be allowed, but starting the trail from Splinters Cabin will not.
The Pacific Crest Trail follows the creek from the Lake Arrowhead area to the Mojave River Forks Dam for 16 miles as part of a 2,650 mile national scenic trail crossing Deep Creek twice on elevated bridges.
Violation of the closures is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 per individual or $10,000 for an organization, or imprisonment for up to six months, or both, according to the Forest Service.
The announcement comes as several of the San Bernardino National Forest campgrounds are set to reopen Friday, after closing due to the coronavirus pandemic.